The Undertones: Success from a Scout hut

During the ‘70s, punk was it its peak. Everyone wanted to pierce their face, put on some tartan and form a band. There were groups popping up all over the place, all waiting for their big break, that one moment that takes you from the corner of a dirty pub to stadiums across the world. The Undertones had that break, thanks to John Peel latching on to their smash hit “Teenage Kicks”.

“If John Peel didn’t get behind that song I wouldn’t be talking to you,” laughs Undertones guitarist Damian O’Neill. “At the time when we recorded the EP we were breaking up all the time, I think we’d broken up a couple of weeks before we recorded.

Still young enough for the “Teenage Kicks”? The Undertones celebrate their 35th anniversary this year. Photo: Pomona PR

“It was our last stand it was like ‘Ah well, here’s our testament to prove we existed. We’ll put this out on [record label] Good Vibrations and maybe in years to come people will think ‘Oh that was a good little song wasn’t it?’ We never expected anything would happen. All that was due to John Peel loving it and playing it on his radio show,” Damian admits.

Despite being best known for “Teenage Kicks”, the band have released six studio albums and are gearing up to re-release “True Confessions: A’s + B’s” in April. As well as the greatest hits package, the band are also going on tour and performing their debut album, “The Undetones”, in its entirety.

“We’ve decided to do the first album in its entirety live because there are some songs we haven’t done since way back in ‘79. It’s kind of a celebration of that really.”

The re-release and mini-tour also coincides with The Undertones’ 35th anniversary of playing live. “The first ever show I think was hilarious,” recalls Damian. “We played some little Scout hut to a bunch of Scouts aged from seven to 12. At that time Fergal [Sharkey] was assistant Scout leader or something like that of a Catholic Boy Scout group in Derry. That was our very first performance in this tiny little Scout hut. I definitely didn’t think we’d be doing this 35 years later.”

The band are also eager to meet with the members of their former fan club, the Rocking Humdingers Club. “We were thinking of ways to make it more interesting, and I think it was Mickey [Bradley, the bassist] who said ‘maybe we should contact the people from the fan club days?’ and we thought it was a good idea.
“We’re curious to see if people would still want to come and see us, and if they do we’ll get them in for free.”

Thirty-five years is impressive for any band, especially one of the 70s punk batch. However, Damian believes it is the punk movement that means his band are still here today. “That whole kind of punk ethos, anyone can do it; ‘Here’s three chords now form a band’”, Damian laughingly admits. “That really appealed to us because we weren’t at that time very good musicians and we didn’t want to be good musicians back in the olden days. Especially in the late ‘70s the music was crap, it was awful, it was stale. You had to be a fantastic musicians to get noticed.”

Not only did the band get noticed, they have been a staple part of any punk fan’s music collection for over three decades. But can they keep going?

“Ten years ago when we reformed it was only meant to be for a few shows and we’re still doing it. I don’t see why not? For the foreseeable future anyway.

“It’s really good live, I think we’re value for money. It’s not corny either, it’s not just a bunch of old blokes having a bit of fun. We really still feel passionate about playing these songs. ‘Teenage Kicks’, I’m nearly 50 now so it’s kind of ironic, but I still have the same passion playing.

“There’s really good chemistry between all of us when we play. I just love playing with my brother John, we kind of share rhythm and lead, I love it. It works so well with John, it’s great.”

Over the band’s illustrious career, Damian has experienced many highlights. One of which was performing “Teenage Kicks” on “Top Of The Pops”.

But he admits that one of the other high points in his career was going to America with punk legends The Clash in 1979, just as they’d recorded “London Calling”. However, this tour also led to one of Damian’s biggest regrets.

“Mick Jones and Joe Strummer wanted to come on stage and jam ‘Teenage Kicks’ with us because it was the last date of the tour. I really wanted them to do it but Mickey had this thing about bands jamming together, it was the sort of thing heavy bands used to do in the past, he refused so it didn’t happen.

“I always always regretted that. I could have shared a stage with Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, even if just for three minutes, it would have been good.”

The Undertones will embark on a 10 date tour in April across the UK.

One Response to The Undertones: Success from a Scout hut

  1. Tim Merrick says:

    Great story and memories….especially the Strummer/Jones understatement ‘it would have been good’